Complaint targets Alabama chief justice's vow to fight 'tyranny' of gay-marriage rulings

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A group that fought Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore over his courthouse installation of a Ten Commandments monument has filed an ethics complaint over his vow to fight the “tyranny” of gay-marriage rulings.

In a Jan. 27 letter to Alabama’s governor, Moore wrote that a federal court ruling striking down the state’s gay-marriage ban doesn’t bind Alabama judges. “I note that ‘United States district court decisions are not controlling authority in this court,’ ” Moore wrote, citing an Alabama decision on the duty to warn of hazardous conditions.

Moore’s letter and interviews with the media spurred the Southern Poverty Law Center to file an ethics complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of Alabama, according to a press release and Al.com. The group says Moore has a responsibility to recognize the supremacy of federal law.

“Chief Justice Moore has himself taken an oath to uphold the federal constitution, even if there are other sources of authority he agrees with or prefers,” the SPLC writes in the complaint. “This is simply ‘Constitutional Law 101’–a principle that every first-year law student at every law school in every state in the union would grasp instantly. Chief Justice Moore’s express rejection of this foundational principle evidences either a lack of faithfulness to a principle of law that is beyond dispute or an utter lack of competence that renders him subject to discipline.”

Moore was removed from the state’s top court in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal judge’s order that he remove the Ten Commandment monument, a fact noted in the SPLC’s ethics complaint over his gay-marriage comments.

“The words that Chief Justice Moore has expressed might be words we could expect to read in an op-ed, to hear on a street corner, or to debate at a coffee shop,” the SPLC says. “But the Court of the Judiciary previously has instructed Moore that the Canons of Judicial Ethics impose on him a different set of rules than those that apply to the man on the street.”

Another group has responded to Moore’s comments with an expression of “deep concern.” In a press release, the Alabama State Committee of the American College of Trial Lawyers said Moore’s comments were an attack on the judicial independence of the federal judge who overturned Alabama’s ban on gay marriage.

Updated at 11:00 AM to include press release from the Alabama State Committee of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

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